Thursday, December 20, 2012

Paris 3rd Time Around - Day 5, Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas

Our excursion to Lyon was successful -- we didn't get lost, our train journey was smooth and went without a hitch!  We both felt like seasoned SNCF commuters! 

Our second foray out of Paris was to Strasbourg -- a bit farther out at 490 kilometers from the capital.  This time, we left through Gare de l'Est.  Our train was due to leave just before 7 am and it was still dark when we got to the station.

What is it about french trains and the color blue? Is it because inherent romantics that they are, the french associate train travel with leaving, departures, good byes and sadness?

I  feel train journeys are opportunities for adventure!  I find trains rides exciting, and definitely more relaxing  and pleasant than taking the plane.   This huge mural right above the station doors perfectly captured the joyous, busy aspects of train travel for me.

We got to Strasbourg a little after 9 am, after a  two and a half hour  journey -- gliding through the north of France.  Strasbourg is in the Alsace district and is very close to Germany -- you could say it is more German than French.
First stop was the tourist information office, conveniently located in the Gare Centrale of Strasbourg.  We picked up our maps, brochures and got a day pass for riding around in the city trams and buses.

The tram was sleek, efficient and a great way to get around this smallish city.  There are a number of lines that effectively criss cross through Strasbourg's streets.

This is the reason why I booked train tickets to Strasbourg.  Known as the "Capital of Christmas", Strasbourg has a long tradition of Christmas markets or marches noel.  Quaint, picturesque, colorful and oozing Christmas spirit from every pore -- this lovely little city truly typifies everything beautiful and joyous about Christmas!

There are over 12 different markets spread out throughout the center of Strasbourg.  Each market has  booths and kiosks selling all sorts of specialties from Strasbourg, the Alsace region and  the whole of  France.  Little houses that show typical Alsatian architecture are popular items.

Many of the booths had local delicacies such as this kugelhopf, a bundt cake that is originally from Germany.

Gingerbread in various shapes make for cheerful  gift ideas.

This booth sold candles and soap handmade from beeswax and honey -- the fragrance wafted throughout the marche.

Many booths sold Christmas decor and Christmas toys -- of course, not all were made locally -- sadly, China has penetrated the Christmas market.

Strasbourg's tourism office was decorated with this awesomely gigantic gingerbread man.  It looked real enough to eat!

Most of the old buildings in Strasbourg follow this very typical Alsatian style of narrow, tall structures with many windows.  They added to the overall charm and unique appeal of the place.

We enjoyed walking through the many narrow streets of Strasbourg, delighting in the different Christmas markets we stumbled on.  As we were wondering if it would be a good time to eat lunch, we came upon this pig mounted on a wall -- just the sign we were looking for to head off for some typical Alsatian choucroute garnie!

We rounded the corner of rue de Chaudron, and came upon this restaurant called Winstub le Clou
The door was shut, we had no reservations.  But when we timidly pushed the door open, a very gracious and smiling lady welcomed us in.  
Voila, she could speak English!  
And why not, Strasbourg aside from being the Capital of Christmas and therefore a tourist draw, is also the site of the European Parliament.  Definitely English as the language of business would be spoken here.
We had no reservations but we came at an opportune time -- there was one table left for 2 and it was ours!

To celebrate, I deviated from my usual beer and ordered a glass of riesling -- this being Alsace after all, why not indulge in a typical German wine.  It came in a pretty little glass and was just perfect.

Winstub le Clou has dark paneled walls hung with paintings of old Strasbourg.  It seemed like a restaurant right out of another era.   The tables, covered with colorful red printed tablecloths,  are set closely together, to maximize the smallish space.

 We ordered the Alsatian specialty -- choucroute garnie or assorted sausages and boiled meats traditionally served with sauerkraut and a boiled potato.
A plate had two types of boiled sausage and three slices of cured pork.
What can I say -- I fell off the vegetarian wagon in Strasbourg!
Pork in road was back ... and with a vengeance.
The choucroute garnie was excellent and well worth falling off the wagon for.

After lunch, we walked through the various streets enjoying the elaborate Christmas decor on the buildings.  Everything was Christmassy and bright -- perfect for children and for kids at heart!

 Strasbourg's beautiful cathedral, built with pink and white stone, stands imposingly at the center of town -- it's one of the most beautiful churches I have seen in Europe and really worth a visit.

We walked further away from the Cathedral and come upon the little river Ill.  I don't want to say that an Ill river runs through this lovely little city -- but that's what it's called.
The buildings, the river, the bridges -- Strasbourg reminds me a lot of Amsterdam.

 The houses stand cheek to cheek with each other and add to the Amsterdam effect.
If Lyon felt Italian, definitely Strasbourg felt Dutch to me!

It is mid afternoon and time to head back to Strasbourg's seemingly out of place ultra modern Gare Centrale.  Our train back to Paris is due to leave just before 4 pm.
We have spent the better part of six hours enjoying this aptly called Capital of Christmas -- and may
I add, I will now also forever think of Strasbourg as the Capital of Choucroute Garni!

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